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Name: Jane Wood

What She Does: New York tenants’ rights activist

In Her Line of Fire: Unethical landlords

Twenty-six years ago police hauled Jane Wood to jail for squatting in a soon-to-be-gentrified apartment house with five poor families who needed homes. The stunt saved that bulding for low-income tenants, and ever since, the 88-year-old Wood has fought for affordable housing in Manhattan’s Chelsea district.

“There are constant, constant efforts to get you out so rents can go higher,” notes Wood, who says her landlord visited five days after her husband’s 1963 death to see when she’d be leaving their rent-controlled apartment. She didn’t–and still hasn’t.

Most recently Wood and her activist group, the Chelsea Coalition on Housing, have taken aim at neighborhood landlords Robert Sigmound and Thomas Iveli, who began what residents call a “campaign of neglect” by replacing flower beds at the front of their building with garbage cans–effectively turning the entrance into a dumping zone. The idea, says tenant Theresa Wheeler, was to let the property decline so tenants would leave, and the owners could raise the rent. But instead of pushing the residents out, the landlords’ action brought them together. With help from Wood’s coalition, Wheeler and others filed suit against Sigmund and Iveli, charging that they offered substandard housing and inflated rents.

City Councilman Tom Duane, who represents Chelesea, credits Wood for saving the district countless taxpayer funds–and homes. “Her courage is contagious. She has single-handedly saved affordable housing stock in Chelsea,” he says.

But the fight is ongoing: Conservative politicians are eroding New York’s once-heralded tenant protection laws, and a state rent-control law is up for renewal next year. Wood is ready. “If you talk to people,” she says, “you find two things are really improtant–health and housing. Housing is, and it should be, an essential right.”

For more information, contact Wood at P.O. Box 1164, Old Chelsea Station, New York, NY 10013 or call (212) 243-0544.